Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eyes” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Born in Dayton, Ohio, 1872, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s first collection of poems Oak and Ivy was published in 1893. Because of the favourable review by William Dean Howells of Dunbar’s second book Majors and Minors (1896), Dunbar’s success was assured from that time on and he became a national literary figure. Other works soon followed, even after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1900: Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), Folks from Dixie (1898), Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899), The Strength of Gideon (1900), Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), In Old Plantation Days (1903), The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904) and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). He passed away in 1906.


Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  Which all the day with ceaseless care have sought
The magic gold which from the seeker flies;
  Ere dreams put on the gown and cap of thought,
And make the waking world a world of lies,—
  Of lies most palpable, uncouth, forlorn,
That say life’s full of aches and tears and sighs,—
  Oh, how with more than dreams the soul is torn,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  How all the griefs and heart-aches we have known
Come up like pois’nous vapors that arise
  From some base witch’s caldron, when the crone,
To work some potent spell, her magic plies.
  The past which held its share of bitter pain,
Whose ghost we prayed that Time might exorcise,
  Comes up, is lived and suffered o’er again,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  What phantoms fill the dimly lighted room;
What ghostly shades in awe-creating guise
  Are bodied forth within the teeming gloom.
What echoes faint of sad and soul-sick cries,
  And pangs of vague inexplicable pain
That pay the spirit’s ceaseless enterprise,
  Come thronging through the chambers of the brain,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  Where ranges forth the spirit far and free?
Through what strange realms and unfamiliar skies
  Tends her far course to lands of mystery?
To lands unspeakable—beyond surmise,
  Where shapes unknowable to being spring,
Till, faint of wing, the Fancy fails and dies
  Much wearied with the spirit’s journeying,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes,
  How questioneth the soul that other soul,—
The inner sense which neither cheats nor lies,
  But self exposes unto self, a scroll
Full writ with all life’s acts unwise or wise,
  In characters indelible and known;
So, trembling with the shock of sad surprise,
  The soul doth view its awful self alone,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes,
  The last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,
And whom sad sorrow teaches us to prize
  For kissing all our passions into calm,
Ah, then, no more we heed the sad world’s cries,
  Or seek to probe th’ eternal mystery,
Or fret our souls at long-withheld replies,
  At glooms through which our visions cannot see,
When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes.

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